La Terra Trema: language
La terra trema premiered at the 1948 Venice Film Festival. It was Luchino Visconti’s
second film. His first was Ossessione made in 1943 when Visconti was 37. The film
was adapted from James Cain’s short novel The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934).
Visconti was a Milanese aristocrat with an extensive and refined cosmopolitan culture.
Ossessione was considered a film that broke with the stereotypes of the Italian cinema
of the 1930’s. It elaborated some of the most vital aspects of Italian culture during
fascism: American literature as fostered by Cesare Pavese and Elio Vittorini and the
lesson of French cinematic realism, in particular the work of Jean Renoir with whom
Visconti worked as an assistant in the 1930s. His experience working with Renoir (on
Une partie de campagne and Les Bas-Fonds (both made in 1936), during the period of
the French Popular Front and the war in Spain, was an aesthetically and politically
rich experience for Visconti. French cinema was in thrall to the avant-garde with its
stylistic innovations, radical political commitments and support for the interests of the
working class. It was Renoir who introduced Visconti to The Postman Always Rings
Between the end of the 1930’s and the early 1940’s, Visconti came into contact with
the Italian film journal, Cinema, edited by Vittorio Mussolini, son of Benito Mussolini.
Cinema, paradoxically, became the voice of a new anti-fascist criticism. It published
articles by Michelangelo Antonioni, Gianni Puccini, Giuseppe De Santis, Carlo
Lizzani, Mario Alicata, Massimo Mida and Antonio Pietrangeli, and by Visconti.
Members of the group were to become film directors after the war, or, as with Alicata,
a leading member of the Italian Communist Party (PCI). The journal argued in favour
of an Italian cinema opening itself to ideas and practices current in Europe, and
particularly in French cinema. It emphasised a realism as a counter to the comedies
during fascism (‘white-telephone films’): it called for abandoning the studios and
going outdoors into the Italian landscape; it pointed to the literature by Giovanni
Verga and Italian literary verismo as a model for the renewal of the Italian cinema.
Visconti fully shared the group’s passion for Verga. Even before Ossessione, he
developed the idea for a film based on Verga’s short stories and novels.
Ossessione was as much a Visconti film as it was a film of the Cinema group and it
achieved the objectives espoused by the group for the Italian cinema. Ossessione was a
film-manifesto. It severed itself from the cinema of the past and opened the way for a
new cinema, that of Italian neorealism. In the five years between Ossessione and La
terra trema, Visconti actively participated in the struggle for liberation from fascism
and the Nazi occupation and for which he was imprisoned. In the immediate post-war
period Visconti worked in theatre where he staged plays that apparently had little to do